By Alfred Rinaldi, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Parts of Rio de Janeiro have seen electricity blackouts as soaring temperatures push demand to record-breaking levels. In Rio’s Rocinha, some areas had to make do without power for up to four days causing sleepless nights, while the failure of refrigeration systems led to losses of perishable foodstuffs.
Grocer Nivaldo de Souza told O Globo: “On Thursday, I lost 70kg of meat due to the power failure. I tried to get Light [Rio’s electricity supplier] to reconnect the transformers. In the end, I fixed the problem myself using a long metal pipe. The power came back but soon failed again. I managed to get the transformer working once more and so far, it has been up and running.”
The high demand for electricity is a countrywide phenomenon. However, in communities such as Rocinha, the problem is exacerbated by the prevalence of “gatos” (literally, “cats”). According to Light, these illegal, do-it-yourself connections to the power supply account for seventy percent of Rocinha’s electricity consumption.
Antônia de Maria Pereira, another Rocinha grocer, admits to obtaining her electricity via a “gato”. “The transformer was overloaded. Everybody is turning on the air-conditioners, and most people tap into the grid illegally. I’d love to be on a legitimate electricity meter, but Light won’t serve us here”. The electricity provider commented that its plans for Rocinha will be implemented once the favela is “fully pacified”.
Elsewhere in the country, the system has been coping despite unprecedented levels of demand. On Friday, January 10th, energy consumption in Brazil reached an all-time high, failing by a whisker to break through the 80MW barrier. Peak demand stood at 79.96MW, beating the previous all-time high of just a week earlier. This record consumption is a direct consequence of the continuing heat, which has led to Brazilians turning up their air conditioning units for cool.
However, according to Hermes Chipp of the Operador Nacional do Sistema Elétrico (Operator of the National Grid), the system has sufficient reserves to cope. Brazil’s power is overwhelmingly produced using hydro-electric generators, which account for around eighty percent of the country’s supply, while gas-fired power stations account for around fifteen percent, with nuclear playing only a minor role.
Despite the heat, the reservoirs still have capacity. In the Southeast, which includes Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, reservoirs were filled to 42.4 percent on Thursday, January 9th – up fifteen percent compared to the same time in the previous year.
According to Chipp, the forecasted rain will replenish reserves. “There is absolutely no question mark over our ability to serve the market”, he told O Globo. “The rainy season has started, and in December, it has surpassed our expectations.” Chipp also pointed to more intense rain being forecast for the second half of January and the month of February.
In the worst-case scenario, the Brazilian National Grid will have to switch on its oil-fired power stations, which come at a relatively high cost in financial and environmental terms. However, at least in the immediate future, the operator has ruled out using this fallback option.